31 Aug 2011

How To Create A Photography Website (From The Beginning...)

I recently set up my own photography website and one of the first things I realised is that there is a lot of assumed knowledge out there, and I certainly didn’t have a great deal! I couldn’t find a beginner’s guide to setting up a photography website at all. There are bits and pieces about setting up a website, or starting a photography business, but nothing about setting something up from scratch, as a complete website virgin, going from inception to the finished product, with all the things that you need to research along the way.

So I kept a record of all the steps I took and things that were important and thought it might be useful for the next person. I’m assuming that, like me, you’ve got this far because you’ve outgrown Flickr and want to move on and perhaps, if you’re lucky, try and sell something (or at least have a nice pretty site of your own to show off your pics to your friends and family). I’m going to include the companies that I used, but I’m sure everyone will have their own choices. I think these are all things you need to do/bear in mind (more detail and some links to searches I did on each below):

 1)    Domain Name Provider
 2)    Choosing a Domain Name
 3)    Whois Privacy
 4)    Choosing which Photography Host Website to use
 5)    Change your CNAME
 6)    Choosing a Theme
 7)    Upload a Logo/Copyright Logo
 8)    Uploading & Organising Photos
 9)    About Page
10)   Other Page Options
11)   Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
12)   Back to Themes
13)   Pricing
14)   How to get Paid
15)   Tracking your progress
16)   Set Up a Facebook Page
17)   Blogging
18)   Marketing

I hope this is helpful – it certainly would have been for me. If it is, please let others know!

Here’s the detail:

1)     Domain Name Provider

As a starting point, you’ll probably want your own domain name, so this was the first part of the research for me - trying to find out which domain name provider to use. I googled a bit and searched a few online reviews (although most of these focus on the web-hosting qualities, not domain name registration).
This seemed like a good review to me. Each of them seemed to have their pros and cons, but the general advice is that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. I found that most people advise you to avoid the real cheapies, as they end up trying to screw you a year or so down the line, or charge you extras, or a lot to renew, etc.. I ended up going with namecheap – they seemed reasonably priced, but not too cheap, and I didn’t find too many horror stories about them. They also enable you to control your information, such as CNAMEs, which you’ll need (see later on).
You  may not want your own domain name, in which case ignore this and go to step 4 – and just use the name that the host provides you with.

2)     Choosing a Domain Name

This seems like an easy bit, but it isn’t, especially if you’ve got a relatively common name and your choice of domain name (www.sophiecarr.com in my case) is already taken. I read various articles, and the main advice was to have something simple, that would be easy to remember (so don’t confuse it with dashes and numbers which may or may not be spelled out, or plurals using a “z” which might be forgotten). If you have a brand name, that’s great, but otherwise something simple that people will remember and find in a google search is recommended.  Also try to keep them as short as possible. Mine probably exceeds the recommended length (www.sophiecarrphotography.com) but I just didn’t like the sound of sophiecarrphotos or sophiecarrimages. I asked a few of my friends what they thought and we agreed www.sophiecarrphotography.com sounded the most professional. A bit dull, but it does what it says on the tin. I’ll save my creativity for my photography instead.
Oh, you’ll have to decide if you think it’s worth buying additional, similar domain names (e.g. sophiecarrphotography.co.uk in my case). I decided that it wasn’t worth it, partly because I’d got the .com name and I think that’s the most important one.

3)     Whois Privacy

Something I’d never even heard of before I started this research was whois.com privacy. Basically, if you don’t have it, then your mailing & email addresses and telephone number are going to be available for anyone to see by doing a simple search here. There are again pros and cons to having this information available – there is a toss-up between being available to be stalked and bombarded with spam or some people thinking that you are a scam as you’re trying to hide your data. I preferred to hide mine; something which was available as a free option with www.namecheap.com for the first year (and is pretty cheap thereafter) – this is something some companies include and some charge extra for. It didn’t seem to be available for the .co.uk addresses.

So, you’ve got your domain name registered, and now you just need a host!

4)     Choosing which Photography Host Website to use

My interest in setting up a website actually began here, as I was looking into selling photos and came across the website I’m using in a google search. But generally the advice is to look at the following options (I’m not doing a comparison here – just some points to bear in mind): 
  • Cost options – probably one of the key drivers is the monthly/annual subscription fee to use the service, and also the cut that they take for selling photos through your site
  • Storage – how many GB of photos can you store under each price plan
  • Print/usage options – what options do the customers have in terms of being able to buy a print, purchase a rights-managed (RM)/royalty-free (RF) licence, etc. (these terms also need some research – see later on!)
  • Print Suppliers – which print suppliers does each host use? Are these compatible to what you want to offer? Are they available in the right geographical region?
  • Payment options – if you actually sell something, how are you going to get paid? What service does the host provide/require you to have – e.g. PayPal?
  • Layout of site – have a look at some of their samples – will these suit your needs? Are there enough creative options?
  • Blogging – is there the functionality to embed an existing/new blog into your site?
  • Ease of use – do these sites look easy enough for you to use, based on your programming skills / lack thereof (some need no skills, some need lots!)
  • Reviews – google each site you find and see what other people say about them
I chose PhotoShelter as, for me, it seemed to provide the best all-round package, with a good choice of themes, some pretty slick sites, reasonable price (both monthly hosting and percentage commission they take from sales), UK print suppliers, good storage levels, and good all-round reviews. It’s certainly not perfect, but that’s not what this article is about.
Some sites have special offers to try them out – this is a good way to see if you like them. There may also be user referral discounts, which will save you a bit of money on your first month’s instalment. I’m not sure that there are any sites that would provide hosting for free; at least there would be a cost associated with selling something.
You can find other peoples’ reviews of the competition here, here and here

5)     Change your CNAME

Once you’ve registered with your chosen site, and you have a registered domain name you’ll want to change the CNAME in your domain site, so that your domain name will link to your photo hosting site (i.e. so that it’ll show up under www.sophiecarrphotography.com and not www.sophiecarr.photoshelter.com). This is a rather complicated exercise and took a bit of trial and error. I wanted to make sure that if someone typed in sophiecarrphotography.com (without any www. or http://) or www.sophiecarrphotography.com or http://sophiecarrphotography.com or http://www.sophiecarrphotography.com they all pointed to my site. They do now!! Both your photo host and domain name provider should provide steps on how to do this in their help sections.

So, you’ve set up your domain name and it links to your photo host site, so now you need to set up the pages of your website. The instructions here are specific for PhotoShelter, but I imagine they’re fairly standard.

6)     Choosing a Theme

In PhotoShelter (PS) there is a choice of themes/templates, and an option to manually customize (for the geeks out there!). I’d recommend having a quick browse, choosing one as a place-holder, and then uploading some of your photos so you can see what it looks like. They’re very easy to change at any point after this, so you’re not committing yourself. I don’t speak any computer languages, so I’m unable to give any advice on the manual customization option.

7)     Upload a Logo (and Copyright Logo)

This was a remarkably difficult step, just because I didn’t know where to start. Again, I have no graphic design background. I finally worked out how to do it in one of the photo software I use – Serif PhotoPlus x4. What’s important is to create a new image with a transparent background, and then save it as a .png file – there is guidance on size, etc. on the Site Logo section of the PhotoShelter Website Themes page, for each theme. It took quite a bit of trial and error to get it the right size and a font that I liked, but it’s easy to upload a new one. For Search Engine Optimization (SEO - again, see later on) it’s been recommended that you include the website name on the .png file that you upload – every little helps!
UPDATE 070112: Just realised I hadn't included anything on copyrighting photos. On my website, the host allows you to upload a copyright logo, which again has to be saved as a .png file. You can choose whether this is placed in the middle of the shot or at the bottom - I prefer the bottom, although this is clearly easier for someone to crop away if they were to steal your photo.  Again, you can choose your opacity - I like 30% - you can see it, but it's not too offensive! Have just updated so that the year is showing 2012!

8)     Uploading & Organising Photos

This is where the fun starts! Well, this is how your website gets off the ground, when you finally see your work on your web page. As already mentioned, it’s also useful to have some photos uploaded so you play around with the rest of the formatting on the other pages to see what it looks like. In PS you can upload photos one at a time, or download their desktop uploader which makes it much quicker, although it isn’t quick if your files are a decent resolution. There are other options, e.g. upload via Adobe Lightroom.  Once you’ve uploaded photos they will go into a default archive, although when you upload you can send them straight to folders, if you’ve set them up. You’ll need to set up archive folders and gallery folders that work just like normal folder systems with sub-folders. Galleries are what people will see on your website, and you have to publish everything you want seen from your archives to these galleries (and then mark the galleries as public, if you want them to be). It is possible to have some password-protected, so that only certain users can see (e.g. for wedding portfolios, etc.).

Under each theme in PS there are different views on each page, depending on whether you want individual images, slideshows, small pictures, big pictures, etc.. It is also possible to constrain the dimensions of the photos, so that they appear even on the front page, say.

9)     About Page

I think this is a very important page, so the user can get a small glimpse into the photographer. You can write a little bit of blurb about who you are and what you offer and upload/link to a photo. I found this a bit tricky – a bit like linking to photos in a blog (see later on!). The easiest way, I found, was to upload a photo (I have an archive folder and unpublished gallery called personal) and then you can go to the photo in archives, press on “get link” and it will give you the Page Link to use which you then copy into the Insert Image section in the About Page – it’s not very straightforward!

10)    Other Page Options

In PS you can add two custom pages (if you’ve got one of the set themes). I’ve used one to show what galleries I’ve recently added to, new galleries, and upcoming galleries. I use the second page to explain in detail the printing and usage options. I think that this page makes it easier for an outsider to understand what’s going on if they’re new to the site and want to buy something.

11)    Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

This is a very important feature if you want your photos and site to show up in Google, which you do! One way to improve your SEO is to add metadata, keywords, IPTC/Descriptions/Captions. In PS these fields are highlighted, to make it easy for you to know which fields you should use. PS also has various pdfs that you can download that give you detailed info on topics like these, if you’re a member. The key is that the information has to be relevant – don’t include endless or irrelevant keywords. Do input a good description. I think it helps the user if they can read what the photo is all about, where it was taken, etc. Personally, I also use descriptive jpeg names, rather than file numbers.

12)    Back to Themes

Once you’ve uploaded some galleries then it’s probably a good time to go back and play around with themes, unless you’ve already chosen one. Remember that if you do choose a new theme it’ll forget your previous theme and any selections you made; e.g. the recently added box is always ticked when you select a new theme (I don’t personally like it). You can play around with fonts and colours of the text in various places, but some of the titles are set.

13)    Pricing

This should be a crucial part of your website, unless you’ve just set it up to showcase your work to loved ones. There are a few choices, the simplest of which is selling prints. PS currently sells through 4 retailers, 3 in the US and 1 in the UK, which I use. I’ve offered in my Prices & Usage page the option for individuals to contact me if they want to use a different supplier; it’s easier that way, I think. In order to assign prices you need to set up pricing profiles – you can set up various options. I have a couple of different print ones and a couple of different RM ones, depending on the size/dimensions/quality of the photos. Each vendor lists the sizes and paper types they offer, with a wholesale cost (i.e. what you have to pay them). You then add a retail price to the sizes & paper types that you want and then save that profile, which can then be applied to whole galleries or individual photos. For an idea of what to charge I put together a spreadsheet of some similarly-placed competitors (i.e. UK-based Travel Photographers), and compared what they were selling for. I also worked out what mark-up I’d need to make the whole transaction worthwhile, given the cost of the PS commission, the monthly PS fee and PayPal charges (see below), as well as some profit.

I’m not even going to mention the Royalty Free (RF) option, as I don’t believe anyone on this site would use it! So, the other main option is Rights Managed (RM) – this is where the photo is sold for commercial (or private) use, and the price quoted depends on the usage; e.g. what it’s being used for, where in the world, for how long, how many copies, etc.. PS uses Fotoquote (an industry standard, apparently) to suggest usage prices, and you just have to choose what percentage of this you want to apply for the different usage options. For my lower resolution, older photos I’ve set up a pricing profile that is less than the other pricing profile for better quality shots.

When you publish a photo from an archive to a gallery it asks you if you want to assign a pricing profile; I believe you can assign three different pricing profiles. In addition to prints, RF and RM you can also set up Image Packages and personal use downloads, as well as offering self-fulfilment of print orders. It’s worth doing a little googling on RF and RM before setting your prices, so you can get an understanding of what each offers.

14)    How to Get Paid

Unfortunately, there is another cost involved in selling photos! This involves actually getting the money when you make a sale. In PS there is an option to use PayPal (their standard offer) or to use a Merchant Account. Both involve you having to set up a business account, and PayPal is the cheaper method, although not the smoothest. For each sale there is a % charge plus a one-off fee per transaction, as well as a foreign currency % charge if applicable. With Merchant Accounts I believe that there is a monthly fee too, so it works out more expensive.  Setting up a PayPal account is not that tricky, and the payment method using it isn’t either; it just seems a little unprofessional to lots of people. It’s something that PS is looking into, but I imagine we’ll be stuck with PayPal for some time.

15)    Tracking your Progress

There are a few ways to track how well your site is doing and who’s looking at it. Within PS there is a Stats & Analytics section which shows how many people have signed up (if you want to buy something through a PS Photographer you have to create an account), any customer carts, statistics on image views and FTP analytics (I haven’t looked into FTP transfers yet). Additionally, Google offers two services – which involve a bit of code being copied from one place to another (and also having a Google account). These are Webmasters and Analytics. Webmasters seems a bit vaguer and shows how many times your site has come up in searches, where you are in searches, etc.. and Analytics gives a detailed breakdown of the visitors to your site. Note that if you’re looking at your own site you’ll be included in these – so you can filter out views by your IP address (mine changes every time I log on, so I check it here and then update the filter list to exclude my current IP address so as not to skew the results with my own views – yes, laborious!!).

16)    Set up a Facebook Page

For SEO purposes, and also because most people have some friends and therefore an immediate audience, it’s recommended that you start a Facebook page. This should encourage some traffic, and is fairly straightforward – again, PS offers a pdf on how to do this. That way you can also “like” other photography Facebook Pages and this will attract more people to view your page and therefore google attention too. Of course it goes without saying that this needs to be updated regularly to make sure people are looking at your new content on your website, or just remind people that it’s there.

17)    Blogging

Blogging, over keywords and metadata, is apparently the key to getting yourself up there on google searches – by having a decent blog that references your photos and your website. This helps to create backlinks to your site and also spreads the word about your existence. Even working out how to start that isn’t totally straightforward, especially if you’re trying to integrate it with your newly-created website, hosted by a photography hosting platform (PS don’t offer a blog, but they do offer an integration solution, at additional cost – via Graph Paper Press). I didn’t want to pay even more to get the integrated blog set up, so chose a free, easy-to-use one (blogger or blogspot – the google one!) and picked a colour scheme that looks like one of my web pages. It seems easy-enough to use, and it is possible to link photos from your web page by going to the “get link” in the archive photo details. It’s a bit fiddly, as you have to make sure that you have the exact address of the photo, without any additional unnecessary code bits. In the PS archive I had to chop the image (the bit of code within the ‘’) from the image link section – this seemed to work.

18)    Marketing

Right, now you need to do the most important part, and actually go out there and try to sell your photos to people! That requires a whole new article, and I’ll be googling others’ pieces for advice for doing that myself!

If you've got this far and found this article useful, please feel free to share it and leave comments!

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